Woodsfields Estates – Houses that Should Not Be Built

by Lynne Jackson

Seventy- five houses are proposed for this 100 acre site in the western most part of the remaining Pine Bush in Guilderland, the last parcel of the largest roadless area in the Pine bush.

This proposal, named “Woodsfields Estates” after what it will destroy, is part of the largest roadless area remaining in the Pine Bush in Guilderland.

The Planning Board of the Town of Guilderland is the Lead Agency for the Woodsfields Estates proposal and will hold hearings and review the project.

In light of the rapid decline of the Karner Blue in the Pine Bush, it is even more essential now that this land be preserved.

Save the Pine Bush brought up many issues regarding this proposal at the Scoping Hearing which the developer should address in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Some of these issues are:

Impact of this development on the largest roadless area of Pine Bush in Guilderland: This proposed housing development is located in the largest roadless area in the Pine Bush in Guilderland. This is an area in the western section of the Pine Bush, consisting of the DiCaprio Park, Trulango Lone Pine 7, and this development. The significance of this approximately 300 acres is that there are no roads here to cut the ecosystem into fragments. Roadless areas are very important to the ecosystem. Roads, even relatively unused dirt roads, can prevent plant and animal species from crossing from one side to another, thus limiting the area inhabited by plant and animal species, and limiting the biodiversity (see related article on page 2 on the importance of biodiversity).

Impact of this development on the ability of the Commission to burn the largest roadless area of Pine Bush in Guilderland: Constructing this development will have a significant impact on the ability of the Commission to fire-manage the entire 300 acres of this roadless area. Fire management may not even be able to occur in this roadless area because of the configuration of houses, the location of the soccer fields, and other physical aspects of the proposed development.

The fact that this land is considered “full protection.” The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission labeled the site of the proposed Woodsfields Estates site. “full protection” in its current Management Plan. A full protection designation means that no development should occur on this site. A great deal of research in the Pine Bush has occurred in the past six years, giving the Commission a wealth of knowledge about how to manage the Pine Bush Preserve and ensure the survival of the Pine Bush ecosystem. Full Protection in the Management Plan is defined as:

“Areas receiving high ranks, or containing especially important resources were recommended for full protection. Areas designated for full protection are recommended for protection in their entirety using the greatest means for protection possible, including, acquisition in fee, land exchanges/sways, purchase of development rights or a conservation easement. Acquisition in fee is the preferred means of protecting areas that can be readily managed with fire. Land swaps allow for the protection of Pine Bush lands recommended for full protection and provide for a proposed development to occur on less sensitive areas outside the Pine Bush Protection Area.”

Also, this parcel, in the Plan, is ranked number 8 out of 35, a very high score.

The effect of this development on the bio-diversity of the Pine Bush. Bio-diversity is the number of different species living in the same ecosystem. Bio-diversity is important. Currently, the world is losing 30,000 species a year. Some scientists believe we are in the third major die-off of species. Species are dying off because of human interference, with global warming, destruction of habitat, pollution, and other human activities.

At the last planning board meeting that I attended in Albany, the chair of the planning board, in relation to a project proposed in the Pine Bush, stated that “Animals and insects to adjust to anything.”. His statement made me realize that some people believe that plants, animals, and ecosystems will successfully adjust to destruction of habitat by people and that we do not need to take into account how these plants, animals and ecosystems will respond to various human activities.

The act of building the houses will destroy 37 acres of Pine Bush ecosystem. The people who will live there will likely plant non-native, invasive species of plants on their lawns. The seeds from these plants will be blown or carried to the Pine Bush. Non-native species, planted by residents, often out-compete native species, reducing the native species, and decreasing bio-diversity.

Delicately balanced ecosystems , such as the Pine Bush, and its resident plants and animals cannot survive such an onslaught of destruction.

Ecosystems, animals and plants can adapt to changes in environmental conditions that happen over thousands of years, not a few weeks when their habitat’s are completely destroyed.

A viable Pine Bush preserve cannot be achieved if this development is constructed. The courts have mandated that a 2,000 acre fire-manageable minimum preserve be created in order for the Pine Bush to survive. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has determined that a minimum fire-manageable preserve has not yet been achieved. Building on this 37 acres will permanently remove this land from the possibly that it could ever be added to the Preserve.

Besides the ecological problems with this development, this proposal also raises issues issues of sprawl and public health:

This development proposal is for a cluster development. Initially, people may say that this cluster development is good, and better than a full build-out. However, this cluster development does not address the problems of suburban sprawl.

Only one form of transportation is supported by this development. Every resident who lives here, must drive everywhere. It is not possible for any resident to safely walk to the store to buy a loaf of bread, walk to his/her child’s school to talk to a teacher, walk to the library or a doctor’s office. Building a development which only encourages the use of cars as the sole transportation method increases air pollution and the health problems caused by air pollution.

The Surgeon General has stated that obesity is the second-largest cause of premature death in the United States, and kills 300,000 Americans a year. One of the leading factors for obesity is that people have to drive everywhere to meet their basic needs in life. Exercise such as walking can greatly reduce obesity.

Centers for Disease Control, Public Health, and The Proposed Development: The public health roots of building codes and materials have all been shaped by health threats: cholera, yellow fever, industrial waste, fire, earthquakes. But some of the most pressing contemporary health concerns in the United States — heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma, depression — are all too often dismissed by planners as irrelevant. To correct the problem, the CDC wrote a report calling for coalitions between doctors, nurses and public health professionals and others such as architects, builders, planners, and transportation officials.

A CDC publication, call “Active Community Environments” describes the problem. The CDC report states that 300,000 people a year die from physical inactivity and unhealthy eating. The CDC report shows the decrease in the past 20 years of walking trips, and the increase in car trips. The report says, “Most communities today were designed to favor one mode of travel — the automobile— and usually do not have many sidewalks or bicycle facilities. Building roads, school, shopping centers, and other places of interest only for convenient access by cars often keeps people from safely walking around town, riding bicycles, or playing outdoors. This is one important reason why people in the United States are not as active as they used to be.”

The Woodsfields Estates development would be built along the classic suburban housing model — no sidewalks, curvilinear streets with cul-de-sacs leading nowhere, and no destination within walking distance, except the Pine Bush. Building communities with public health concerns in mind for the need of people to be able to walk to needed locations is essential. This development does not do that.

The next step in the approval process is for the Planning Board to approve the scoping document which will describe the issues the developer must address in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Then, the developer will prepare a DEIS. At that time, a hearing will be held to comment on the DEIS. Please check back to the Save the Pine Bush Action Alert (http://www.savethepinebush.org/Action/Action.html) page on the website to find out important meetings and hearings to attend on this site.

Printed in the May/June 2002 Newsletter